Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF go head to head in Spain on Saturday night with each eager to gain ground on fellow UEFA Champions League hopefuls FC Barcelona.
Madrid have had a disappointing start to the domestic season, languishing in the bottom half of the table with ten points from seven outings. Valencia may only be four points better off, but they are in second place behind runaway leaders Barça, who have 19 points after six wins and a draw.
The sell-out Santiago Bernabéu crowd will have some cause for optimism after getting back on track in the Champions League on Tuesday night, courtesy of Michael Owen's goal in the 1-0 home win against FC Dynamo Kyiv. Valencia, meanwhile, were humbled 5-1 at home by FC Internazionale Milano the following evening.
Despite the contrasting midweek fortunes, Madrid striker Fernando Morientes told uefa.com he would have preferred a Valencia victory. "It would have been better if Valencia had beaten Inter because their pride has been hurt and there is no better way to come out of the rough than getting a result against Real Madrid," he said.
English duo David Beckham and Jonathan Woodgate are Madrid's main absentees while Valencia could have several missing, notably Vicente Rodríguez, although Rubén Baraja is available after the Spanish Football Federation lifted his suspension. Much will be expected of David Albelda, and the Valencia captain is hoping "the backlash can come at the Bernabéu".
Also on Saturday, RC Deportivo La Coruña, another of Spain's Champions League contenders, travel to Málaga CF, one place below them in ninth. Javier Irureta's men earned a creditable 0-0 draw at Liverpool FC on Tuesday but will be without captain Mauro Silva who picked up a leg injury in that game.
On Sunday, Barcelona will seek to bounce back from their 1-0 defeat at AC Milan on Wednesday, their first loss of the campaign. They welcome sixth-placed CA Osasuna to Camp Nou with Ronaldinho revealing the team's confidence has not been dented. "We just have to keep looking forward and working in the same style," he said.
Of Sunday's other fixtures, Sevilla FC's home match against Club Atlético de Madrid stands out. The clubs in third and fourth respectively have, Barcelona aside, the league's best defensive records. Levante UD, in fifth, entertain mid-table RCD Espanyol while seventh-ranked Real Zaragoza visit lowly Real Racing Club Santander. The remaining games see Villarreal CF welcome CD Numancia, RCD Mallorca travel to Real Sociedad de Fútbol, Getafe CF host Real Betis Balompié, and Albacete Balompié receive Athletic Club Bilbao.
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